Saturday, March 26, 2011


It’s Saturday morning again and I’m trying to think of what happened the past week that I can share.  Let’s see, I overheard one of my 10-year-old students quoting Al Pacino in Scarface.  Another of my students declined the option of taking a bathroom break prior to recess.  Once he hit the cold, he quickly changed his mind and began searching for a place to relieve himself.  Out in the tundra, there are limited options for finding privacy.  After walking a distance away from the playground, he settled on an acceptable distance and did what needed to be done.  He had a problem, took action, and solved it.   This is what every teacher wants to see from his/her students.  Unfortunately, I doubt we will be seeing this question on our upcoming state standardized test.  I will submit it to the board for next year.

Stephen Wright said, “Hermits have no peer pressure”.  They also have no company.  Living up here is similar to a hermit life style in that there are few chances you’ll have visitors.  I do enjoy the solitary existence that living up here offers.  There are no Wal-Mart trips to anger me.  No Costco crowds to deal with.  I’ve never had a Jehovah’s Witness knock on my door since I’ve been here.  Regrettably, they will now pay me a visit.  I’ve heard that they scan blogs on the Internet to find people they may have missed.  This differs from the old fashion way of only stalking people door-to-door. 

Having time on my hands allows me to watch more TV.  Well, when it is working.  Last weekend I missed the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, so I was able to do homework.  This morning I have a nice signal, so I was able to watch two hours of Man vs. Food.  I love that show.  It is also educational, because I’ve learned that the terms “meat sweats” and “pirate healthy” are perfectly fine to use in our everyday vernacular.  An example of how to use one term correctly would be: “Your Honor, the reason I should be excused from this jury is because I have the meat sweats.”  You could also use this as an excuse so you will never be asked to show up to an event you don’t want to go to.  Meat sweats will frighten some people. 

Another reason I love this show is because of their obsession with bacon.  Almost every food challenge involves bacon somehow.  And lots of meat.  You will never see Adam have to eat a bucket of Brussels sprouts to fulfill his challenge.  But you will see him try eating a 6-pound steak with 2 pounds of fries and a quart of cream to wash it down.  I know some of the after effects of these challenges can be frightening, but I would hate to see what happens to a person after a Brussels sprout chow down.  That would be for an episode of Dirty Jobs.

Since I was successful in spending my time wisely this morning, I probably should do some homework.  Anthropology is a very interesting discipline, but I’m not going to make a career change.  If I did pursue anthropology more, I could write my master’s thesis on the dietary traditions of pirates.  Probably less bacon and more parrots. 

Sunday, March 20, 2011


Once again I’m explaining to parents how their child is performing in the classroom.  It’s report card time.  And again, it’s an exercise in self-examining my abilities as a teacher.  Every time I write about some difficulty a student had last quarter, I wonder if it could have been avoided if I had done something sooner about it.  Probably.  Every time I write about some achievement a student attained, I wonder if they would have made that progress without me, on their own.  Probably.   In my first year I’m hoping I just don’t stunt their growth.  I don’t allow them to drink coffee in class just in case.

This weekend was the village’s annual potlatch.  This is a native celebration where people gather to eat, dance, and exchange gifts.  This has also been a time when families display their wealth.  Villages will invite a nearby village to come to the potlatch; in our case it was Scammon Bay.  Scammon Bay is about 50 miles from here, so they converged upon us in snowmobiles.  Without doing an official count, I do believe we may have doubled our population this weekend.

The potlatch is held in the tribal community hall.  In a village of less than 200 people, the tribal hall isn’t that big.  So Friday night it was full.  There were seats for most of the adult people. Apparently the kids are encouraged to enter and exit the hall as many times as they can.  Maybe there is a cultural contest with that, but man, that door stayed open more than it was shut.  Which wasn’t a bad thing since it was about 100 degrees in there.  This was my first social outing in a long time and I was a bit rusty on how I was supposed to carry myself.  Plus, this is a different culture, so I was unsure if I should remove my hat when I entered the hall (I didn’t), if there were certain places I shouldn’t sit (first come/first serve), or if pants were optional (nope, required).  If you want to know more about how a potlatch is carried out, Google it. 

A couple of my students had their first dance at the potlatch.  Their families passed out gifts to the guests and the kids were dressed up in their mukluks, a headdress, and feather fans for their dance.  It’s a pretty neat celebration and I know the community put in a lot of time practicing for the past few weeks.  They would practice dancing from 7-11pm each night, which meant there were a lot of tired kids the past few weeks at school.

Our weather has broken from the past few weeks.  We’ve had nice weather, getting to zero at night and in the upper teens for the daytime. No clouds or winds, so it was pleasant for walking to and from school.  This weekend, it has warmed up to the low 30’s, with the arrival of wind and clouds.  We’ve had a few inches of new snow, but it’s been blowing around, so who knows where it is.  The awful news is that the weather affects my ability to receive my Dish Network signal.  Since the NCAA Tournament is the only thing in full bloom up here, I was looking forward to watching some games this weekend.  Nope.  Plus it affects the internet here too, so I have sloooow speeds.  I have troubles even getting email at these speeds, so it is difficult to get scores. 

Two more weeks until Monica shows up.  Being a bachelor was much more fun when beer and pizza was available for purchase.  Being a bachelor up here just means I’m the only one to do laundry.   I have learned that the word “clean” is relative.  As the only one doing the laundry in my house, I get to determine how clean a shirt is.  My rule is as long as I don’t wear it two days in a row, it’s clean.  Maybe Monica will change my reference, but for now I’m holding fast to that.  I won’t go into my new position on personal hygiene.  It is rather personal.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


The earthquake in Japan and the subsequent tsunamis that followed forced me to face the obvious question: will washing my delicates in warm water wear them out faster?  While I was asking my co-workers about my concerns, the talked turned to leaving town in the event of a tsunami.  We don’t have any roads that lead out of town, but it doesn’t matter since there are no cars that could use that road.  One of the aides said she’d just hop on her snowmachine and head for the hills.  “And leave me here?” I asked.  We sat in awkward silence until she finally said, “I don’t think flannel counts as a delicate.  I wouldn’t worry about washing them in warm water.”  Good to know.

The options are limited in the village as to how to escape a tsunami.  We are about two miles from the Bering Sea and sit at near sea level.  Besides trying to outrun the water with a snowmachine, every other scenario seemed to have us getting wet as the common thread.   Our best means to possibly surviving one would be to find a ladder, prop it up on the wall, and climb up to the roof of the school.  The single story building is the tallest point for miles.  And I mean at least 15 miles.  I don’t know how many people will fit up there, but I hid the only ladder in the village, so I know I’ll be the first one up.

School is continuing to chug along.  We don’t have a spring break and I think the students are beginning to get tired of listening to me.  Actually that occurred on September 14th, at 10:23 am.  They’ve just been tolerating me since then. One of my students decided to lie down on the floor instead of doing his work yesterday.   As I squatted to attempt to persuade him to sit in his chair, I ripped the crotch of my jeans.  The first thing I thought was I had just tore my hamstring.  A quick check ended my fear and began a new one.  The student hadn’t noticed because he was loudly explaining to me that he didn’t think it was  possible for him to get back into his chair.  I slowly stood up, still a little concerned about my hamstring.  I made my way to my desk and he found he could get back up to his chair.  I sat behind my desk for the remaining half-hour so I kept the catastrophe under wraps.  I think I took four minutes off my walk home, what with the three-inch crotch rip, the wind, and the single digit temperature. 

The basketball season ended last week abruptly, due to lack of interest.  It is a shame when there are only five players, because it only takes one’s decision to determine what happens to the team.  We only had one week left, but they will miss a trip out of town.  The elementary team is in Hooper Bay right now playing their district tournament, so the school does have a team to cheer for.  I watched a little bit of one game at our school on our closed circuit TV system we use for meetings.  They set it up so they could broadcast our games.  This is nice since it is hard for the families of the players, or anybody else for that matter, to make the trip for the tournament.  There were a few people watching it this morning in the library. 

Monica will be here in less than three weeks, so I have some house cleaning to do.  I finally figured out what that thing was on the vacuum cleaner: it’s called the on/off switch.  I also ordered some groceries so we don’t have to eat rice with every meal.  I don’t want her to come for a visit and then decide not to come up here next year, so I have to prepare some new menu items.  I have some Tang left, so maybe an orange glaze over a roasted Spam.  And now that I've fixed the problem with the vacuum cleaner for her, how can she not want to return?

Friday, March 4, 2011


I knew when I came up here to teach I would be experiencing many new things.  The obvious one was starting a new job.  Not so obvious was having to get on an airplane with five middle school basketball players and be in their charge.  After we had boarded the five-seat Cesena, the pilot looked at me and asked if we were ready.  I looked at him and squeaked out a weak “help!”  He must have thought I said, “Sure, I’m an adult and have chosen to be responsible for these five kids”, because he said, “Good” and started the engine.  I realized I had better become an adult fast. 

We landed in Marshall at 7:30 Friday night and were immediately shown our room.  Our room served as a 3rd grade classroom just a few hours before.  The leftovers of a popcorn party remained on the same floor we were going to roll our sleeping bags out on.  We didn’t have to wait around for long because our first game was at 8.  The pregame pep talk consisted of me asking if anyone needed to pee.  When I was finished in the bathroom, we were ready to go. 

Deciding who started and who got to keep me company on the bench is easy when there are only five players.  The team is coed with one girl.  Shortly after the third quarter started, I had company.  One of our players fouled out about two minutes into the third quarter.  I’m convinced he fouled out because he just wanted to listen to me calmly guide my team from the front row.  I did find it odd that he wouldn’t come sit next to me.  Now we had only four players to finish the second half of the game.  I tried to recall some inspirational moments from the movie Hoosiers to tell the kids, but all I could do is ask if anyone had to pee. 

We limped through that game and then turned around and played the next game.  After two games in a row with no subs, our kids were dragging.  It was also getting late.  The curfew in Marshall is midnight, so they had time to play two more games which did not include us.  The other teams had plenty of players, so they had the luxury of having players who were not begging to come out of the game.  My players would ask, “Can I come out for a few minutes?”  I would explain to them that we couldn’t sit anyone out because we had nobody to come in for them.  They would listen intently, nod and ask, “Yeah, but can I come out for a few minutes?” 

That night the kids learned about leg cramps.  I shared the classroom with the four boys, and they thought they were about to loose their legs.  They spent over an hour cooped up in a small Cessna on the way up there, then played two games in the next two hours.  So when their legs started cramping, they became very interested in what I had to say about cramps.  I remembered my late father’s medical advice and passed it along to my players: "Does it hurt when you do that?  Don’t do that!"  They didn’t enjoy that.

We made it home the next day only a few hours late.  We were tired because we played two more games that morning before coming home.  I say we because I was up until 3am listening to them take turns complaining about the cramps.  Taking turns meant they were coming together as a team.  But their legs were healed by morning and I heard nothing more about them, even on the way home.  I sat up front in the co-pilot’s seat again, but this time a good-looking blond was the pilot.  And she is on the Flying Wild Alaska TV show.  I’m pretty sure she was hitting on me, but I’ll write about that in the next post.  First, I have to make a phone call to my wife and notify her about this.